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Culture —– Water (Agua): Don’t Drink it! Especially Cold!

by Brandi

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May 26th, 2009

If are planning to travel to or stay in Latin America, do not drink the water out of the tap! The water usually isn’t potable because they don’t use the same type of water treatment plants as they do in the United States. If you accidentally drink the water out of the tap, you may get what many people, over the ages, have affectionately called “Montezuma’s revenge”. Along with other symptoms, this condition will usually include many unwanted trips to the restroom.

Changing the topic a little, I want to share a cultural difference that I still don’t entirely understand and even now find interesting every time I think about it. In the United States, we drink cold water and cold drinks all the time. We drink cold drinks during the day, at night, and during meals. If you happen pick up fast food late at night, even if it is cold outside, and you order a water or soda, they always put ice in it. (International blog readers, please let me know if this is done in your region of the world.)

Latin American’s have a very different mentality with regard to cold drinks. The first time I asked for ice to put in my cold drink late at night in Latin America, everyone gasped. Everyone looked at me with shock and horror as if I were about to voluntarily throw myself off a large cliff. I asked them, “What is wrong with putting ice in my drink?” They said to me, “You can’t drink ice at night, if you do, you’ll be sick in the morning.” I thought they were joking with me and said, “When I lived in the United States., I drank cold drinks with ice at night all the time.” They all looked at me in disbelief and shock, like they wondered how I was still alive.

I was sad to find out the the no-ice-in-drinks thing was not just at night. Often, I would go to people’s homes in the summer for lunch in 100° weather with no air conditioning, and they would always serve hot soup and a luke-warm drink. I thought I would shrivel up and die without something cold in such hot weather. But, lucky for me, I’m still alive and able to write our “lleno de emoción” Spanish newsletter.

Now getting back to drinking ice at night — every so often, I would wake up in the morning with a sick stomach. If I told the family that I ate breakfast with that morning that I had a sick stomach, they would always ask me in an accusing tone, if I had ice in my drink the night before. If I told them I did have ice the night before, they would say “Ah Hah! We told you so, but you don’t listen!!! — Just don’t drink any more drinks with ice at night and you’ll be okay.”

As I remember my experience with ice in Latin America and try to solve the mystery of that cultural difference, the only solution I can come up with is since they never drink icy drinks at night, their stomachs are probably not be used to it.

Now for the moral of this week’s story: If you want to drink cold drinks with ice at night in a pueblo (small city) in Latin America, you’d better hide it or drink it where nobody will see you. Otherwise you can cause quite an uproar and a lot of concern and worries for your health (they will probably think you’re crazy too). Actually, come to think of it, if you are a person who really needs some attention, go ahead and put ice in your drink.

If any of you have had experiences with drinking icy cold drinks at night, I would love to hear from you.

Sneak Peak at Next Week: Cultural Hand Gestures

¡Que tengan una buena semana! (Have a great week!)
David S. Clark — President / Director

Click here to learn Spanish.

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